These days, most urban parents are aware about cholesterol and the role it plays in the human body. Essentially a type of lipid, cholesterol is an integral part of your cell membrane. And your blood contains both good and bad cholesterol. An increase in bad cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits or plaques on artery walls, which can pose the risk of heart diseases and stroke. So, you might be wondering if testing your kids for high cholesterol is necessary.

At a country level, 5% of children suffer from high cholesterol. Most alarming is the triglyceride levels. Around 34% of Indian children in the age group of 5 to 9 years have increased levels of triglycerides, which can increase the risk of heart diseases. So, it is important for you to understand if your child is at risk of high cholesterol levels and take appropriate measures now.

What is cholesterol?

It is a yellowish, waxy lipid that is found in every human body. Although you might have heard a lot of negative things about cholesterol, we all need it in moderate amounts. It is important for the development of cell membranes and hormones. And cholesterol also produces vitamin D, which is essential for the absorption of calcium.

Where does cholesterol come from?

Cholesterol is mainly produced in the liver of your child’s body and the rest of it comes from the diet he or she follows. Your child’s body absorbs cholesterol from foods that are rich in protein and fats. Foods like cheese, eggs, organ meat, shellfish, red meat, and full-fat dairy products are rich in cholesterol. So, to keep cholesterol levels normal, the consumption of such foods should be regulated.

What is bad cholesterol?

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is called bad cholesterol, as excess levels of it can be harmful to your child. Your child’s blood vessels are like small pipes carrying blood to the heart, or away from the heart to various organs. Excess LDL cholesterol can cause the formation of plaques which can clog these pipes, preventing the blood flow. This condition is called atherosclerosis, which can cause heart problems. In extreme cases, the plaque can clog the pipes carrying blood to the heart, causing a heart attack, or block the flow to the brain, causing a stroke.

What is good cholesterol?

HDL cholesterol is bigger in size and helps in the removal of the bad cholesterol (LDL) from the blood. HDL is considered good cholesterol as it helps in the removal of the plaques that block your child’s blood vessels.

What are triglycerides?

These are another type of fat found in your child’s body. Excess levels of triglycerides are not healthy as they can increase the risk of heart problems.

What is the procedure for testing your kids for high cholesterol?

Your doctor might recommend a screening test called the lipid test to analyse your child’s cholesterol levels. Recent guidelines recommend lipid tests at regular intervals for testing your kid for high cholesterol. A complete lipid profile will provide details about your child’s LDL, HDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol. Only a small amount of your child’s blood will be needed for analysis. Make sure your child fasts before the test and has only water.

How much is healthy?

LDL level of less than 110 mg/dL is considered healthy and acceptable. LDL level of 110 mg/dL to 129 mg/dL is considered borderline high, which means, your child is almost at risk. And LDL level of more than 130 mg/dL is considered high.

What about total cholesterol levels?

HDL level should be around 35 mg/dL. HDL is good cholesterol, so levels less 35 mg/dL are considered risky.

What causes high cholesterol?

An unhealthy diet is the main reason why your child might have high cholesterol. Junk foods, for instance, are rich in saturated fats and high sugars, which can increase the risk of high cholesterol and cardiovascular problems. Coupled with this, children these days spend more of their time indoors, glued to their gadgets, and lead sedentary lifestyles. And sometimes, high cholesterol runs in the family too. Your child will be at risk if there is a family history of high cholesterol or stroke or heart disease. Some other conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can also cause high cholesterol.

You should consult a doctor if you find yellowish skin growths on your child’s body. They could be high cholesterol symptoms. You should also look out for any signs and symptoms of cardiovascular problems, which are suggestive of increased cholesterol levels.

What are the steps you should take to manage excess cholesterol?

Firstly, you should not ignore abnormal test results. Your doctor will guide you with an appropriate treatment plan to bring down your child’s cholesterol levels. Your child has to maintain a healthy diet and manage his weight appropriately if the cholesterol levels are high. Your doctor might recommend some medicines too, if necessary.

Tips to bring down bad cholesterol

  • Avoid foods high in saturated fat or cholesterol in your child’s diet
  • Limit his sugar intake and avoid foods with refined carbohydrates
  • Limit his calorie intake too
  • Make sure he is active and exercises regularly
  • Watch his weight

Tips to increase good cholesterol

  • Make sure your child exercises at least 20 minutes, three times a week. Staying active is the mantra. Try and limit his gadget time as well.
  • Include foods that increase HDL in his diet, like fishes rich in omega 3-fatty acids.

By following a healthy diet and being active, your child can minimise the level of bad cholesterol in his blood. His doctor or nutritionist will be able to chart out balanced meal plans that can help achieve this.